The Vanuatu tribes are mourning the death of their ‘god’: the late Prince Philip (of all people). For years two villages on the Vanuatuan island of Tanna (in the Pacific) have revered the Duke as a god-like spiritual figure.
“The connection between the people on the island of Tanna and the English people is very strong… We are sending condolence messages to the Royal Family and the people of England,” said tribal leader Chief Yapa.
For the next few weeks, villagers will periodically meet to conduct rites for the duke, who is seen as a “recycled descendant of a very powerful spirit or god that lives on one of their mountains”, says anthropologist Kirk Huffman who has studied the tribes since the 1970s.
After the Prince’s death they conducted a ritualistic dance, held a procession, and displayed memorabilia in his honour. For this final act of mourning a great deal of wealth was on display: yams, kava plants, and pigs, a primary source of protein. often killed at ceremonial events, under the giant banyan trees. There were speeches remembering the Prince, but also discussion about a possible successor. At sunset the men drank kava.
For half a century, the Prince Philip Movement thrived in the villages of Yakel and Yaohnanen – at its height, it had several thousand followers, though numbers are thought to have dwindled to a few hundred.
The villagers live in Tanna’s jungles and continue to practise their ancestral customs. Wearing traditional dress is still common, and while they maintain strong links with society, money and modern technology such as mobile phones are seldom used within their community.
Though they live only several kilometres from the nearest airport, “they just made an active choice to disavow the modern world. It’s not a physical distance, it’s a metaphysical distance. They’re just 3,000 years away,” an observer remarked.
The villagers’ centuries-old “kastom”, or culture and way of life, sees Tanna as the origin of the world.
The aim is to promote peace – and this is where Prince Philip has played a central role. Over time, the villagers have come to believe he is one of them – the fulfilment of a prophecy of a tribesman who has “left the island, in his original spiritual form, to find a powerful wife overseas. Ruling the UK with the help of the Queen, he was trying to bring peace and respect for tradition to England and other parts of the world. If he was successful, then he could return to Tanna – though one thing preventing him, as they saw it: white people’s stupidity, jealousy, greed and perpetual fighting.”
(Tessa Wong, BBC News)
Tomorrow: What accounts for this unusual story. (I have edited it for length somewhat, but thought it made a change from police gunfire.)